AMY GOODMAN: A US Army reservist who publicly refused to deploy to Iraq last month may face prosecution from the military after refusing to report for active duty with his unit in South Carolina.
Sergeant Matthis Chiroux served in the Army for five years, with tours in Afghanistan, Japan, Germany and the Philippines. He was honorably discharged last summer and was placed in the Individual Ready Reserves, a pool of former soldiers who can be “reactivated” and ordered to deploy to war.
Last month, Sergeant Chiroux announced he would not deploy to Iraq. He made the announcement in the Capitol Hill Rotunda after members of Iraq Veterans Against the War testified before the Congressional Progressive Caucus during Winter Soldier on the Hill.
On Sunday, Father’s Day, the deadline for Chiroux to report for active duty expired. Chiroux now joins us from Washington, D.C. Matthis Chiroux, welcome to Democracy Now!
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Good morning, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: So tell us what is happening right now. When were you supposed to deploy or report for active duty?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: OK, I was supposed to report Sunday, Father’s Day. I did not. I was in Washington, D.C. with the Iraq Veterans Against the War at their chapter house. I gave a short speech on the porch of our house there, and I stood with my dad, and I kept my promise to the military, I kept my promise to my country, to refuse an illegal order to participate in an unlawful occupation.
AMY GOODMAN: So what happens now?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Well, right now it’s turned into a bit of a waiting game, as far as the military goes. You know, I made my intentions clear, and then I followed through on them, and I’m waiting to hear from the military.
There’s no real way I can know what consequences to face here. You know, many, many members of the Individual Ready Reserve, about 15,000 of them, have been called up since the beginning of this occupation of Iraq, and only 7,500 of them have reported. So there’s about half there that’s unaccounted for. And many of those individuals have been ignored by the military, as they should be. It is an illegal order to call up and deploy to Iraq. Others have been charged with desertion. So, during a time of war, actually, desertion can be punishable by death. So, you know, my spectrum of consequence is in the situation range literally anywhere from nothing to death. So I will wait faithfully in the United States, as I promised to do, to see how the military will react.
AMY GOODMAN: Sergeant Matthis Chiroux, why did you sign up and when did you sign up?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: I signed up about a month after I got out of high school. I was a very, very poor student in Auburn, Alabama. I graduated high school with nothing more than a 2.1, no real money in my bank account, no prospects for a good job or education. And, you know, I joined the military primarily looking for personal progress, though after enlisting and after spending 4th of July, you know, three weeks before I reported for basic training here in Washington, D.C. with my mother, I also felt proud about the fact that I would be participating in the global war on terror, to bring to justice those individuals who perpetrated 9/11, or the events of 9/11, anyway, on this country. So I joined both out of a desire to pave a way forward to a career and to university and also to spend some time serving the nation.
AMY GOODMAN: And what year was it that you signed up?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: 2002. I was in the military from August 1, 2002—I reported to basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky—to July 31, 2007, when I was honorably discharged from Heidelberg, Germany.
AMY GOODMAN: When did you go to Iraq?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: I’ve never been to Iraq, ma’am. This would have been my first tour. Fortunately—well, by nothing more than good fortune, my five years in the military, all after September 11th, I was never asked to deploy to Iraq. And I’m quite thankful for that, because I think I would have been facing a very similar situation as I am now.
I have—there has never been any lack of disgust for the Iraq occupation on my behalf. You know, I remember quite clearly watching the invasion while I was still in Army journalism school in Fort Meade, Maryland. I remember watching it on my company’s big screen television and feeling entirely shocked and awed to see what was going on at the other end of those cameras in Baghdad and know that our actions were not sanctioned by the international community and were, you know, coming on—at the word of a few people who were saying Saddam Hussein is a threat. So since that time, since the invasion, I’ve been against this occupation to various degrees. But fortunately, I was never unlawfully asked to serve there until now.
AMY GOODMAN: Afghanistan?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Afghanistan, I went to in 2005, although only for a very short stint. I was an Army journalist working for General B.B. Bell at the time. He was still the commander of US Army Europe. And we went down to catch up with a unit from Hohenfels, Germany, a training unit that was in fact only supposed to be assisting other soldiers who were training in Hohenfels, Germany. They had been deployed as a non-deployable unit under the direct command of a Romanian battalion, and I went down to Afghanistan to tell the stories of those soldiers deployed with that unit.
But, Amy, my combat experience is very limited, and I don’t want anybody to feel like I’m trying to hide that point. I never discharged a round in a combat zone, and I never took one, either. But that does not make me any less qualified to determine or to choose between, as I’m required to, a lawful and an unlawful order and either following or refusing those orders alike.
AMY GOODMAN: Matthis Chiroux, you were a military reporter?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Yes, Amy, I was.
AMY GOODMAN: What did you do?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Well, I spent a lot of time writing stories and taking photographs in the interest of the commands that I served. It’s a smaller career field in the Army, but it’s a very highly creative and independent field, where you spend a lot of time producing, like I said, stories, photographs, coordinating interviews, coordinating transportation to wind up where you need to be to conduct your interviews and produce a story, basically just like anything any civilian journalist would do, except at the end of the day my duty was not as much to the truth as it was to the truth that the Army wanted not just its soldiers to see it, but civilians on the outside.
So, you know, for example, I once did a story about a Romanian soldier who had been wounded in Afghanistan. He had had his leg blown off by a mine, and I went to interview him at the hospital to produce a really—you know, to produce a piece for the US Army Europe quarterly magazine about basically how we, as the American Army, were so generous by agreeing to treat a coalition soldier in a US Army hospital. Now, this story came at quite a personal expense for me. When I went to do it at the hospital, he was one out of about, I believe, sixty-five men and women who had lost limbs in either Afghanistan or Iraq, and I went to do the story about the Romanian guy, ignoring the dozens of other American troops who had also been suffering greatly in combat, but their stories could not make us look, I guess, nearly as well as this Romanian guy who we were caring for.
And, you know, I’ll never actually forget leaving the ward that day. And there was a young man, couldn’t have been more than nineteen years old, lying on a gurney, and he was missing both arms and legs, and he looked over at me, because I had the camera, and I was there with the story, and he said, “Hey, are you a journalist?” And I said, “Yeah, I’m from the US Army Europe, and I’m here to cover this story about this Romanian troop right down the hall. Do you know him?” And to which he just got really quiet and distant and looked at me and said, “Sixty-five blue-blooded Americans on this hall, and the journalist shows up to do the story about the Romanian. That’s cold-blooded.”
And I remember looking back at this young man and having—feeling like my diaphragm was being sucked down my thighs, because what could I tell this guy? You know, “Yes, I am here to do the happy, rosy story about the Romanian who’s getting taken care of. I’m not here to talk to you. And—but that’s my job, just as it was your job to do whatever you were doing when you got your legs blown off.” It was my job to produce stories in the manner which my leadership told me to write them and told me to produce them.
So, situations like that—I mean, that’s a particularly poignant one for me in my mind, but typically situations like that, where I would be telling a story, I would be writing a story based in fact, based in quote, but I would also be limiting the scope of that story to the topic which would make the military look like it was really taking care of its people, make it look like it was really taking care of coalition troops and, you know, make it look like it was really accomplishing something, either in Iraq, Afghanistan, or any place in the world that I served. I had the very unique experience of spending more than four-and-a-half years overseas.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you raise that story, Matthis, with your editor? Did you say—
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Absolutely, I did. Yes, I did. I raised it, and I told him I thought it was terrible and that actually that experience kind of affected me—well, very much affected me for awhile. And, you know, it came less than a year before I got out of the military. And that was—that one was what put the nail in the coffin for me. I didn’t—I was disgusted that I was being ordered to, like I said, produce a story about this guy, to go in and have to interview a man who has had his leg blown off in somebody else’s war not but a week earlier and to not be able to report about the fact that when I interviewed him, I was in full protective gear, because this young man had contracted a bacteria from the sands of Afghanistan that is spreading pretty rampantly, or at least at the time was, through Army hospitals all over the world, and he was inside an isolation chamber where, you know, all the oxygen was flowing in, rather than out, to try and keep his bacteria contained. And—
AMY GOODMAN: What was the bacteria?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: I believe it started with an “A.” I’m not a doctor, but it was something like “acetobacteria” or something like that.
AMY GOODMAN: And you didn’t describe what he looked like, where he was?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Absolutely not. Well, I took a couple of photos of him. You know, those are still out around online. But I didn’t—
AMY GOODMAN: And did the military newspaper run the photos?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: It was posted on a website. It was released on a military newswire. As well, it was published in US Army Europe’s quarterly magazine, which I helped to, you know, shoot for, write, edit and produce, EurArmy magazine.
AMY GOODMAN: You just couldn’t explain why he was in—
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: No, I didn’t—I didn’t report—I didn’t report on the bacteria.
AMY GOODMAN: You just couldn’t explain why he was in that isolation chamber.
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Well, I knew why he was in that isolation chamber, but the fact is, for us to be broadcasting to the world, you know, however necessary it may be that we have a Romanian soldier here that’s in isolation, not but a week after, you know, having his leg blown off, because he’s got a bacteria that’s spreading throughout all kinds of Army hospitals, you know, that does not paint the rosy picture that the military requires most of its journalists to paint.
AMY GOODMAN: And what did your editors say when you asked if you could cover the US soldiers, like the one who had his arms and legs blown off?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Well, I didn’t ask “Could I?” I asked why we didn’t, why we wouldn’t. And she said it’s not in line with our strategic goals. We had a strategy map for US Army Europe, a command information strategy map, which outlined about seven or eight different points that we wanted to be advertising to the world and to our soldiers. And I believe while one of them was talk about US Army Europe healthcare and why it’s so good and so top-notch, but one of the main strategic goals of working for that magazine was to foster positive relationships between the US military and militaries of emerging allies in the East, such as Romania or Poland, you know, all of these former bloc states and just Eastern states that are now contributing troops to efforts both in Iraq and Afghanistan.
AMY GOODMAN: Sergeant Matthis Chiroux, we only have fifty seconds left on the satellite, and I want to ask you what happens to you now. On Sunday, you announced you’re not going to report for duty. Are you AWOL? Are you absent without leave?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Well, I’m not absent without leave until they tell me I’m absent without leave. To me, I’m following the US Constitution. I’m upholding the law, and I’m going to continue behaving as such. I refuse to be labeled or be shamed by these actions. I refuse to behave like a criminal. I am going to stay here in Washington, D.C., until at least Thursday. I’ve been here for the past two-and-a-half weeks lobbying members of Congress to come out in official support of resisters to the Iraq occupation for cause of its unconstitutional nature, as well as being waged in violation of international laws and the like. I believe we’ve made progress, and I believe—Thursday, I believe members of Congress will be coming out in support of war resisters.
AMY GOODMAN: Sergeant Matthis Chiroux, we’re going to leave it there, and I want to thank you very much for being with us. Again, as of Sunday, he has publicly announced that he is refusing orders to deploy to Iraq.